Every day, twice a day, Arnetta Griffin arrives on 22nd Avenue in Uptown, and every day her regulars are waiting.
“She’s a saint; I’m not going to lie to you,” said one of those regulars, Carl Ingram Jr., who was sitting on a planter ledge reading a book when Griffin arrived.
Ingram has been homeless for about a year and said Griffin is a bright spot in difficult days.
“She’s got a heart. She’s got a heart.”
Since late May, Griffin has cooked meals twice a day in her own kitchen, packed them in individual containers and then turned up at lunch and dinner times in the 6100 block of 22nd Avenue to hand out food to homeless people who spend their days in Uptown, and to anyone in the neighborhood in need of a meal.
Each lunchtime she provides 20 meals. At dinner, she tries to give out 35.
On Monday at noon, she stepped out of her daughter-in-law’s car with a tote filled with boxed meals of bratwurst on a bun, salad and snack crackers.
Within about 10 minutes, the meals were all gone, given out with smiles, bottles of water, blessings and often a hug.
“She’s here this time every day,” said Robert Longstreet, who lives on 22nd Avenue.
Once or twice, he said, he has taken a meal himself, but mostly, he said he leaves them for people he thinks need them more.
“Sometimes she’s got her kids with her; sometimes she’s got little kids with her, but she’s here every day. That’s what she does. She feeds the people.”
Griffin, 51, lives about eight blocks away and said she became worried when she read about the closing of First Step Services, which provided shelter and support to homeless people with drug, alcohol or mental health issues.
She said she decided to start cooking meals and making daily deliveries in late May or early June.
“God just gave me that vision, and I just walked out on faith and went out on faith,” she said. “They were hungry. And God said, ‘If they are hungry, feed them.’”
Griffin has rheumatoid arthritis and lives on Social Security disability. She uses her own money to pay for the food, her kids chipping in to help pay for supplies.
Her children — she has eight kids and 19 grandchildren — take turns picking her up, helping her cook and helping her deliver the meals.
When she first turned up with her meals, people weren’t certain what to think.
“They thought I was selling it, and I said, ‘No, I’m not selling food. I’m giving it away,’” she said.
As she has become a daily fixture in the neighborhood, people have offered help.
A pastor has provided food. The not-for-profit Walkin’ In My Shoes has provided aid. A local real estate agent has provided cash.
On Monday, a delivery driver bringing snack chips to a local business gave her a case of chips.
Griffin grew up in Chicago and moved to Wisconsin when she was 18. She said she was homeless for a time in her past, and she knows what it is like to be hungry.
“I was living in Green Bay, and I lost my job,” she said. “Me and my kids were going from place to place, but we did it as a family. I wasn’t separating my kids, and we got through it together.”
She said she looks at her life and, despite financial struggles and health problems, sees blessings.
“It’s a lot to thank God for, because he helped us through it,” she said. “So I said, ‘How can I make a difference? How can I give back? And this is what the Lord told me.”
Family works together
Griffin’s eight children all live in the area and they all try to help her with her mission. One of her daughters, also named Arnetta, helped on Monday.
At first, the younger Arnetta said, she and her siblings were worried about how much their mother was taking on, especially when she began using her own limited financial resources to do it.
But they also weren’t surprised, because generosity is part of her nature.
“She always wanted to feed people. At holidays, we always had big meals, and she always told us to invite everyone. The door was always open,” her daughter said. “I’m very proud of her, very proud. And that’s why we have no choice but to help.”
This weekend Griffin and her family are planning to bring her habit of providing big holiday meals to Uptown. She got permission to set up in the Uptown Pantry parking lot, 6119 22nd Ave., on Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., serving a meal to anyone who comes.
“I’m calling it a blessing meal,” she said. “It’s going to be like an early Thanksgiving.”
Anyone who would like to is welcome to stop by, as is anyone who would like to donate to her efforts.
Griffin said she has no plans to stop serving meals to homeless people in the community anytime soon.
“I just want them to know they are important too; that they are special; that they are somebody,” she said. “And because I love doing it.”